Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Vault Reviews: "Aneed" by Midnite

Carry on. Aside from something we talked about not too long -- that being the actual gifts of the supremely talented musicians -- there is another very fascinating group of individuals who have such characteristics which can basically 'save' almost anything that they do and make it some kind of interesting. When you do something so much better than everyone else or so unusual that it isn't actually dependent upon you being in or even near a fine form, this makes virtually everything that you do of note and, at least on the surface, makes it all worth hearing on some level or another. Of course the greatest example of something like this would be someone like Jah Cure. The Cure could go and sing out the schedule for his day if he wanted to. He could merely sing/hum along with the riddim. He could sing absolute gibberish. He could do all of that and it would still be interesting because his is the greatest voice anyone has ever heard and you want to hear him doing stuff with it. Someone else like this would be Perfect Giddimani. His unpredictability and full-on volatility at times make hearing what he does, consistently, very necessary because I don't think he could change his style these days even if he wanted to. Busy Signal would be another in that same manner because you simply do not know what he is going to do and you could even add in Aidonia, with what he is capable of with the spoken word. And you'll notice that I do not mention people such as Sizzla Kalonji and Lutan Fyah and others because they have to be in that great form for what they do best, lyrics in both cases, to be apparent. Jah Cure sings like Jah Cure all the time. You never know what Perfect or Busy will do with a tune and on any track, the lyrical volcano that is Aidonia can erupt without notice. While these traits do not always guarantee quality (and I don't even consider myself a fan of Aidonia's anymore and am far less of one of Jah Cure's these days than in previous times), nothing does that, what they can do is to make sure that these particular artists get paid attention to by many fans, if for no other reason that just because we want to see what happens next. Obviously someone else who readily belongs to that pack would be Midnite frontman Vaughn Benjamin whose skills with the written word has TOWERED over anything anyone might point to as a deficiency in his style for his entire career. 

And you'll hear a lot of that. You'll even hear it from me. Absolutely no one is above critique (some of us, however, may actually be BELOW compliment, on the other hand) and the ones that you'll generally hear in regards to Benjamin is that he can be cryptic, his music certainly is not the most immediately pleasing -- he isn't very melodic -- and, as someone who has attempted to transcribe pages and pages of his lyrics, he definitely has a tendency to mumble at times. However, what endures is his incomparable writing. A bonafide genius, Vaughn Benjamin writes songs which are just unlike anything anyone else is doing and has ever done in the history of Reggae music. So, as you can tell, while I am enjoying a great deal of his output these days and will continue to ("Seek Knowledge Before Vengeance" will probably be the next Midnite album we deal with) - listening as much as I have been, I have ran into less than stellar material (a lot of it is to be found on the "Current" album, if you're wondering) which remained compelling because of what was being said. 

And THAT was my initial main interest in an album Vaughn Benjamin did back in 2006 (I actually think it released in 2007 though) by the name of "Aneed". This was an album which, on the surface a lot going for it (outside of a gorgeous cover), but it did/does present an opportunity to hear more of his work. And I won't even wait to tell you this, "Aneed" isn't Benjamin's best work, it isn't even close, but again, you want to hear what this man says next. However, with that being said, it certainly wasn't devoid of fascinating circumstances. The most interesting of them all is surely the fact that, out of any album, this was a VAUGHN BENJAMIN album. It says "Midnite" on the cover and that's what we call it, but out of all the albums which carry the tag but really just mean the group's lead, "Aneed" did it on a level unlike anyone that 'they've' ever done. Why exactly?! Benjamin would have help here from Donny Dread, whose Groundbreaking Records imprint would actually do the album and a hand as well from Laurent 'Tippy' Alfred of I Grade Records (biggup I Grade)… and that was about it. Everything else on this album, writing, arranging, instrumentation -- all of it -- Vaughn Benjamin would be involved in it. The result, presumably, was a set which was ultimately very personal to its creator and one which still stands out to this day because of that. As for he label, while Groundbreaking wasn't the most active in its time, they did make a nice contribution as, along with "Aneed", they would also do an album for Donny Dread himself in "Set De Pace", "Nah Go Like Me" from yet another highly talented female artist from out of the VI, Nubian Natty, and probably most noteworthy, Dread and company would release the second and strongest album for the outstanding Xkaliba (who it would be really nice to hear from), "Baptized In The Ghetto" (more on that in just a second). So they definitely did fine work and while I don't know if they still make music, they left a nice impression on fans. But while Groundbreaking Records didn't do the single best Midnite album anyone had ever heard, they did make a decent one and one which, in retrospect, has aged better than expected. Let's talk about it.  
Something that "Aneed" shares with an album we wrote on not too long ago, "Thru & True", is the very strange tracklist for this album. There're thirteen tunes in total and nearly all of them have single-word titles. In fact, there are only sixteen words in full used on the titles of these songs. Now, that means absolutely nothing, not a damn thing, but it well catches your attention when you run down the list. Also sure to get you looking in its direction is the opener of "Aneed", which just happens to also be its best song, the all kinds of fascinating 'Ehlend'

"Claim seh dem tek away di earth from for I decadence and I brutality
For lecherousness and carnality
For lack of introspection and impurity 
And dem nah do no better, yeah who nah si
Who nah hear and who caan be
Connected in dem heart inter-rhythmically 

BOOM! LISTEN to this tune, and I mean listen to it well, and what you hear is such a divine and veiled piece of complex social commentary and you know that no one else could pull such a tune. Also, it has a very nice sound to it and it stands as one of a few songs that no one else touched. Everything you here on this one is the work of Vaughn Benjamin. 'Due', which comes next is a song which I do enjoy and, of course, is very well written, but it stands out to me these days because of its sound. Nothing here is immediate, apart from Benjamin's kind of streaking raises of intensity, but this thing SOUNDS so nice. It's so simple and pleasing to the ear, but I don't think it is a quality which leaps out at the listener so if you're listening to it and think I'm just an idiot (you'll get no arguments from me on that), definitely don't pass a judgment on that song in particular on the first or second spin. 'Job' is another song which has an excellent sound to it, although in this case it is far more directly beautiful. Despite the sonic charms of this one, however, the real star in its case is what is said. 'Job' is a multifaceted praising song and with it, Benjamin accomplishes a ton of work that someone else may spend half an album worth of songs trying to do. 

Along with the opener, "Aneed" really contains three other songs which far set themselves in a different class of quality than the other material on the album and, coincidentally, they all come in succession here. First is the piece which has gone on to become, arguably, the most popular tune this album would produce, 'Precepts'. This is one lovely moment and if you listen to it, there's nothing which draws you in its direction more so than some of the more glaring pieces (aside from that downright unstoppable track behind it), but 'Precepts' makes its giant mark on the project. Speaking of leaving an imprint, next is 'Earth'. This song, personally, is a favourite of mine because of its riddim - carrying this selection is the same composition which backs the MAMMOTH 'Jah Rescue Me' ["I been praising Jah for so long! And I know Jah Jah never done me wrong!"] [BOOM!] from Xkaliba's previously mentioned "Baptized In The Ghetto" album, which was the best thing you'll find there and may also be one of the best two-hundred or so songs that I've ever heard. Benjamin does honour the track with another dazzling praising piece, but one which clearly has its feet rooted in the soil of the 'earth'. 

"Jah was the eye inna the belly of the earth
Jah was inna the outskirts of the iniverse
Forward of the inverse and reverse
Circle of impetus from sky to earth and sky to earth
Constant need of heart and silicone fire earth

And then is 'Jahlookova' which is pretty self-explanatory and another scintillating offering from 'Aneed'. Though it does well slow things down following its predecessor, if you go deeper on that tune you well find some kind of 'hidden' fire. And I'm also tempted to include in this lot a later offering by the name of 'To Live'. This one is very Jazzy and just cool and what I really like is how Benjamin's vocals kind of meld themselves to the nature of the song. As I said before, that isn't something which is always the case with his music (sometimes you literally wonder if he hears the track at all), so to hear it on a level where it is nearly perfect is definitely worth mentioning as the chanter espouses on everything necessary to walk the planet with health and pride. 

As for the remaining material from "Aneed", there is another three tunes which stand out amongst them, although in a different way (writing in threes today, apparently, after I finish this, I'll have three more to talk about). 'Aneed', the song, is one whose riddim makes it attractive (featuring a FINE guitar played by Benjamin), but not exceptional. This is one of those rare cases where you have to respect a song for what it is - brilliant - but you know the man has better moments which're similar and even has some of them on this same album. And also check the two closing pieces, 'Airful' and 'Keep Yure Love'. The former is nearly golden as, very cleverly, Benjamin uses a term and really fills it with 'air', as in 'life'. This is one of those pieces which is candy to an over-thinker like myself because it leaves points for you to arrive at your own conclusions, but what I take from it in due course is that it is a running observation of life. And I'm still working on it so I wouldn't be surprised if I continue to (and you know I will) that it rises to be a favourite for me as well. 'Keep Yure Love' is a bit less subtle (and that guitar there is fantastic also), but well solid as well and becomes far more interesting, musically, as it progresses. This is the song which features the work of Tippy Alfred and, as a piece of music, it contains every bit of the CLASS for which his label is known. 

And wrapping up the album is another trio of tunes (I told you) which are not amongst the best work of "Aneed", but still are worth hearing for some aspect, 'Chapta', 'Jai' and 'Tri'. It is definitely 'Jai' which is the best of them, but both it and 'Tri' really go back to the premise of my review - they're songs which you listen to and can enjoy, but largely because you just love to hear what Vaughn Benjamin has to say. They are not very sonically pleasing songs. For its part, 'Chapta' is probably the changeup from the album, with its very peculiar track and it does have some redeeming quality which is to be found, most shockingly (not really) in it is lyrics.  
Vaughn Benjamin
Overall, were I to compile my top twenty favourite Midnite albums, "Aneed" wouldn't be listed and if I got to thirty without mentioning it, I wouldn't be too surprised either, but it even if ranked around thirty-five or so (and it might), it would be very solid in its spot. Apart from the allure of just listening to what he has to say and enjoying an album in whose creation Vaughn Benjamin would play such a major role, the music here was sufficient. You have those moments, definitely, four of them in particular (maybe five, because each time I spin 'Airful' I think about going back and added to the earlier row of songs before remembering that I'm entirely too lazy to do that right now), but essentially, the album exists as thirteen MORE displays of such an unbelievable talent and one which, obviously, need not even approach its absolute pinnacle to still do fine work. 

Rated: 3.50/5
Groundbreaking Records
CD + Digital

Review #457

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